Let’s talk about chickens.
When I was very young, I had a pet chicken, a white bantam hen named Dickie.
I don’t remember how she, of all the chickens my parents raised for fun and drumsticks, became a pet. I think she belonged to a clutch of chicks my mother raised in the kitchen closet beside the water heater. As such, she would have had an advantage over the yard chicks.
Dickie wasn’t much of a playmate. She preferred wandering around the yard scratching for bugs. In summer, when the back door was open, she spent the mornings on the porch, looking through the screen door while mother worked in the kitchen. They conversed. Dickie clucked, Mother answered. Discussions were superficial but pleasant.
My pictures of Dickie are packed away, but I remember them well. In the best shot, I held her up for a good view of the camera. I wore jeans, a long-sleeved striped t-shirt, a scarf, and a straw cowboy hat. A six-gun was holstered on each hip. We were a couple of tough customers, Dickie and me.
The only thing detracting from our dauntless image was the scarf that covered my head and tied under the chin. It made the hat fit more snugly than usual, and it made me look like a sissy. Dale Evans never wore a scarf. But it was winter, and I was subject to sinus infections. Anyway, whenever my mother was cold, she made me wear a scarf.
Dickie’s claim to family fame lay in her refusal to lay. While other hens were fruitful and multiplied, Dickie just kept up the daily kaffeeklatsche. She didn’t bother to produce even the occasional breakfast egg. My parents discussed the un-hen-like behavior.
Then she stopped appearing at the back door. Mother found her in a dark corner of the garage, where, after barbecuing, my father had set a lidless cardboard box of charcoal briquettes.
Dickie had transformed the box into a nest. She intended to hatch charcoal.
At first we thought was it cute. Then it turned serious. She was obsessed. Every time my parents removed her from the nest, she returned. Her appearance altered: her back remained white, but her underside was as black as the eggs.
This led to more discussion. Mother said hens would “set themselves to death” and that Dickie was on the path.
So Mother hatched a plan.* We visited the Luling hatchery and purchased a half-dozen baby chicks. Unable to get white, to match Dickie, we settled for black, to match the charcoal.
Back at home, Mother tiptoed into the garage and placed the chicks, one by one, under their new mama.
Instead of welcoming the hatchlings, however, Dickie went ballistic, squawking, scratching, flapping her wings. Mother scooped the babies back into their ventilated box and retreated.
Dickie lowered herself onto the briquets and resumed setting.
Later, Mother said it had been a mistake to attempt the transfer during the day. Chickens are more easily deceived in the dark.
That night, my parents discussed the situation over dinner, again, and decided on a new strategy.
The next day, my father evicted Dickie and trashed the box of charcoal.
Mother prepared to raise more poultry in the kitchen closet.
Dickie picked up where she’d left off, scratching for bugs, visiting with Mother, occasionally helping me gun down a horse thief.
*Sorry about that.
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